Who Is Arnav Gupta? New Details On The Man Who Set Himself On Fire In Front Of The White House And Why He Did It

Visitors to DC were witness to a horrible act of self-immolation.

Who Is Arnav Gupta? New Details On The Man Who Set Himself On Fire In Front Of The White House And Why He Did It Instagram

Visitors to the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. last week were shocked and horrified when a man set himself on fire in front of their eyes. Witnesses saw Arnav Gupta walk across the open park area across from the White House, completely engulfed in flames. Secret Service officers as well as U.S. Park Police officers rushed to extinguish the flames and administer emergency aid until an ambulance arrived. Gupta was transferred to a hospital with third-degree burns on 85% of his body. He did not survive.


Who is Arnav Gupta and why did he commit such a terrible act? Read on for all the details. [WARNING: Some images below are graphic.]

1. Missing person alert

Gupta was a 33-year-old resident of Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C. On May 29, his family alerted police that he was missing and the Montgomery County Police Department posted an alert on their Facebook page saying: “Concern for Missing Bethesda Area Man: Detectives from the Montgomery County Department of Police — 2nd District Investigative Section are asking for the public’s assistance in locating a missing Bethesda area man. Arnav Gupta, age 33, was last seen by family when he left his Cindy Lane home at approximately 9:20 this morning (Wednesday, May 29). Gupta is described as an Indian male who is 5’ 9” tall and weighs 200 pounds. He has black hair, brown eyes, a mustache, and wears glasses. Police are concerned for Gupta’s physical and emotional welfare.” No details about the reasons for concern about his welfare were given. Later, police updated the alert to say that Gupta had been located, but did not mention that he died or how it happened.


Local police put out an alert for Gupta.

2. Career

According to reporting by The Heavy: Gupta grew up in Bethesda and attended the private Landon School. He graduated in 2004. He went on to Boston University where he majored in international relations and seems to have graduated in 2008. After college, he returned to his high school alma mater and worked there as a coach for several years, before going into a job in property management. He then was an executive assistant to the CEO of Alfredhouse Eldercare, an assisted living facility. The last position listed on his now-inaccessible LinkedIn account as “Education Consultant” at Chance Academy, “a homeschool cooperative dedicated to families in D.C. and nearby Prince George’s County.”


Police were treating him as a missing person before his remains were identified.

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3. Artist and writer

Gupta had a website dedicated to his creative endeavors called Arnamania, which The Heavy says shows some of his art, along with prices for his pieces, which range all the way up to $10 million dollars. His bio on the site says: “After a fulfilling career in the intersection of Education, News-Media, Artificial Intelligence, and Global Politics, the artist now enjoys working on less weightier subjects such as nature-scapes, wildlife, and portraiture. He aspires to one day write fantasy literature in the mold of his favorites: C.S. Lewis, J.R. Tolkein, and Roald Dahl.” The Heavy also discovered a self-published work Gupta posted online several weeks before his death. It was titled Memoirs of a Shadow President. One passage reads: “We must protect this house, Not quiver like some Obama mouse, Louis C.K. jerking off on a fallen Angel’s blouse, No Iran nuclear deal Defend the forward bastion of the Crusaders appeal, The Kapitalisten Schweine squeal, The art of the New Deal.”


Gupta created art and written works.

4. Tragedy

On the day of his death, CBS News reported that Gupta was seen walking across the Ellipse in Washington D.C., his entire body engulfed in flame. The Ellipse is a 52-acre open park, across the street from the White House. Hundreds of people pass through the area on any given day. Witnesses that day saw Gupta, wearing a shirt that said USA, walking across the area, completely covered in fire. Video from the event circulated widely on social media. Bystanders alerted Secret Service and Park Police officers stationed in the area and they were able to extinguish the fire. EMTs were not able to save Gupta’s life.   


US Park Police issued a statement on the incident.

5. Motives

It’s not clear why Gupta took his own life in this way. Police officials haven’t released any statements on the investigation and Gupta’s family has remained private during this time. TMZ claims that D.C. police sources say there were hallucinogens found in Gupta’s system but no other outlets confirm that information.


Gupta did not survive.

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6. Self-immolation as protest

Gutpa is not the first person to set themselves on fire in Washington, D.C. Earlier this year, a man in a wheelchair set his jacket on fire in front of the White House. He survived the incident. In the past, self-immolation has been a form of protest. The Washington Post published an article recalling a number of incidents of people setting themselves on fire as a final act to bring attention to a cause, recounting Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc who set himself on fire in Saigon in 1963 to protest the Vietnamese government’s treatment of Buddhists. In 1975, Quaker and Vietnam War protestor Norman Morrison set himself on fire below Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s office in the Pentagon.


Self-immolation has been used as radical protest.

There has been no further information about Gupta or what might have led to his death.


Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.